Reporting Vince Gerasole
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CHICAGO (CBS) – They did something wrong and paid the price by getting their cars towed, but to make matters worse, they had to pay too much to get their cars back.
Back in December, the Illinois Commerce Commission allowed tow companies to increase the maximum rate for a tow from $170 to nearly $200.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole spoke to motorists who clearly parked where they weren’t supposed to, but also found evidence that towing companies were making mistakes by overcharging drivers.
Signs in private lots warn that if you park where you shouldn’t, you could be towed, but the posted cost of being towed – required by law – is not necessarily what consumers are being forced to pay.
Nick Ulloa of Lombard, a wounded Iraq war veteran, parks with a handicapped placard. In spite of signs warning otherwise, he pulled into a parking lot in Lakeview, left the strip mall and his car was towed.
“I admit I messed up. I shouldn’t have parked there. I should have known better,” he said. “I just thought handicapped spot, handicapped placard like it is out in the suburbs.”
Our cameras show at least four signs clearly stated the tow charge at the parking lot was $170, but Ulloa and several other towed motorists contacted by CBS 2 were charged $198.50 in the same lot. As of December, that’s the maximum Illinois tow companies are allowed to bill for towing cars, as long as the price is posted on parking lot signs.
When he was charged more than the $170 posted on the parking lot’s signs, Ulloa said, “I thought it was just taxes at first.”
Lincoln Towing, which services the lot, has since placed stickers indicating the higher price, a move it says it took months ago when the law changed.
“Lincoln Towing probably has 50,000 signs up over the whole course of the city and the state,” said Allen Perl, an attorney for Lincoln Towing. “There are individuals who have, in the past, vandalized our signs by taking off the stickers or removing one sign.”
Perl also noted that, when Lincoln Towing puts up a new sign showing a new price for towing, it doesn’t necessarily take down the old sign. Sometimes the new sign is just placed right over the old one.
When it comes to posted prices, Lincoln Towing is not alone in having signs up that show the old towing prices. There are signs from numerous companies citywide still displaying the old price.
Asked if he is confident that Lincoln Towing has been able to change every single one of their signs, Perl said “as far as Lincoln knows, yes.”
But at that Lakeview strip mall on Wednesday, an outdated sign was still in place. A rival towing company reported the same strip mall to the Illinois Commerce Commision in January for displaying incorrect signs.
Investigators concluded it was the work of vandals and Lincoln Towing said it made repairs.
Lincoln Towing has offered to refund the difference to the incorrectly charged motorists. The Illinois Commerce Commission said that, even if just one sign has the old rate, that’s what motorists should be charged. They also said if drivers see an incorrect sign, they should report it to the ICC.